FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. --
For the first time in U.S. Cyber Command history, a Cyber National Mission Force task force exercised, tested, and certified the capability to execute full-spectrum operations, including defensive, offensive, and information operations.
The collective training exercise, initially envisioned as a means to certify cyber task forces every two years as required, evolved into a holistic event that integrated real-world based threats, operations, and processes to create realistic scenarios for cyber warriors.
In April 2019, then U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Timothy Haugh, the CNMF commander at the time, presented the task force construct to Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, USCYBERCOM commander and National Security Agency director, one aligned by threats, versus teams like service cyber mission teams.
CNMF is comprised of five task forces, each aligned against an individual threat actor: China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and emerging threats. Assigned members have expertise across the full spectrum of operations: defensive, offensive, and information operations, with services still providing cyber protection and national mission teams to each task force.
“If you fight like a task force, you have to train and certify like one too,” noted U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Joe Hartman, current CNMF commander, to exercise observers.
The exercise was developed specifically for CNMF’s threat-based task force structure and to test the full-spectrum operations they execute. This construct is made possible, in part, by the Persistent Cyber Training Environment, which was used on both unclassified and classified networks and serviced three locations simultaneously.
“The ability to certify our task forces in full-spectrum operations is a big deal. We couldn’t have done it without the Army’s support, and hopefully this will become a model to certify other task forces, with similar support from other services,” emphasized Hartman. “We think this makes Cyber Command, CNMF, and our task forces better.”
Sharpening Cyber Skills
The holistic exercise allows individual participants to clearly see how their actions fit into the larger mission, which enables different sorts of operators to better support each other. The defensive, offensive, and information operational components each experience real-time how their actions integrate, improving the cohesiveness of the task force.
“This is also an opportunity to try new things. The exercise allows us to get the creative juices flowing and experiment with new techniques and processes in a controlled environment,” said the commander of the task force which conducted the exercise.
The Nature of Cyber
During the exercise, Hartman stressed the importance of continuing CNMF’s readiness beyond its initial and full operational capability certifications and how organizational health must be maintained, especially in an environment of persistent engagement.
“We are never going to have two weeks off to surge for task force certification…this is the environment we are in,” said Hartman. “The other missions aren’t going to stop, so we have to both train, and execute real-world missions simultaneously.